While horse owners take pride in a shiny, well-groomed
mount, regular grooming also benefits your horse’s health and well-being by
promoting circulation, stimulating the skin and massaging the muscles. The
routine interaction of grooming helps build a relationship with your horse and
can strengthen your bond. From a practical perspective, grooming before riding
is a must because the heat and friction of tack on a dirty horse can cause
sores and skin irritation.
A well stocked grooming kit starts with the basics: hoof
pick, curry comb, and brushes for the body, usually one soft and one with
stiffer bristles. Add a brush or comb for mane and tail and a sponge or two,
and you’ll be equipped for daily care.
Old towels and rags are also useful to have on hand for many
grooming tasks, such as cleaning the face and head, spot cleaning, rubbing out
sweat marks and more.
Each horse should have his own grooming tools to prevent the
spread of fungus through shared brushes and grooming equipment.
Customize your grooming tool selection and techniques for
your horse. Stiff brushes and vigorous grooming may irritate a sensitive,
thin-skinned horse, while an itchy individual or one with a thicker coat may
enjoy a more heavy-duty grooming. There are numerous variations on the basic
curry combs and brushes. Experiment with different brushes and amounts of
grooming pressure to find out what works best.
As you groom, be attentive to your horse’s reactions, note
any unusual sensitivity that could indicate a developing physical issue, such
as back soreness. Regular grooming is also a great way to monitor your horse’s
weight and general health. The hands-on inspection allows you to become
familiar with what’s normal for your horse and notice any changes. You can
detect and treat cuts, skin irritations, swelling and other minor health
problems before they turn into major ones.
Horses are creatures of habit that take comfort in a
routine. It also makes sense to clean in a systematic manner so that you aren’t
dirtying what you’ve just brushed. As a general rule, work from the top down,
front to back, and then switch sides. You’ll eventually develop your own
grooming routine for optimal efficiency, but here are the basic steps.
Some horses enjoy having their faces groomed, while others
merely tolerate it. Be gentle. A soft, flexible curry can help remove loose
hair and dirt, followed by a soft brush. Use a damp rag or sponge to clean
around the eyes and nostrils.
With fingers or body brush, gently remove shavings, hay or
other large debris from the mane. Any dirt that falls on the coat will then be
swept away during your grooming session. If you aren’t cultivating a long
flowing mane, it’s OK to give the mane a quick brush.
Use the curry comb in circular motions to lift up dirt and
dander from the coat and remove loose hair. Start at the neck and work from
front to back on the large muscled areas of the body.
Follow the curry with a medium or stiff brush. Use short,
brisk strokes in the direction of the hair, with an upward flick at the end to
help remove dirt. As a finishing touch, use a soft brush to polish the coat to
a shine and remove any fine dust and dander remaining.
Legs & Feet
The soft brush can also be used to clean the legs on a daily
basis. A soft, flexible rubber curry or mitt is gentle enough to use on the
bony structure of the legs as it conforms to the shape of the leg and
effectively loosens dried mud. It’s especially important to make sure legs are
clean if you will be putting on wraps or boots.
If you see small yellow bot eggs on your horse’s legs, you
can use a grooming block to scrape off these little parasites.
Picking out the feet is one of the most essential grooming
tasks and should be done before and after every ride. Ideally, you should clean
out your horse’s hooves on a daily basis, even when you don’t ride. It’s
important to remove stones or foreign objects that can cause bruising and
discomfort. Packed dirt, mud and manure can create an ideal environment for a
hoof infection such as thrush to develop.
As you run your hand down the horse’s leg to ask him to lift
his foot, take a minute to pay attention to the leg itself. This is a good
opportunity to feel for heat or swelling, and look for small cuts. Also check
the overall condition of your horse’s shoes and feet.
A gentle squeeze above the fetlock joint cues most horses to
lift a hoof. Support the hoof in one hand and with the other hand, use your
hoof pick to remove dirt, stones and any other matter. Work from heel to toe in
a downward direction, picking out the v-shaped grooves around the frog. Brush
off any remaining dirt, and gently set the hoof down.
Many people believe less is more when it comes to preserving
a pretty tail. The less you fuss with the tail, the less risk of hair breakage
and loss. However, some minimal maintenance is required to keep it tidy. As
part of your everyday routine, pick out any large debris in the tail, such as
shavings or hay. Burrs can be removed with the help of coat polish spray or
For a thorough detangling, start with a clean, conditioned
tail. An application of detangling serum or spray will make the job easier. The
basic technique to tame a tangled tail is to start at the bottom of the tail
and work upward in small sections. When you hit a knot, work through it gently
to separate the hairs. Traditionalists favor detangling by hand, followed by a
wide tooth comb or pin bristle brush.
A long mane can be detangled just as you did the tail. If
you keep your horse’s mane thinned and pulled short, plan on regular pulling
sessions to keep it at an appropriate length. Some people prefer to do a little
bit every day. For daily care, short manes can be brushed out with a pin
bristle mane and tail brush.
Post Ride Grooming
Grooming after a ride is also important. Dried sweat left in
the coat is itchy and may also cause your horse to develop skin problems.
Rinse off sweat and mud if the weather permits, or let it
dry so that you can brush it out. Pay special attention to the sweaty areas
under the saddle, bridle and girth. Also check between hindquarters for any
sweat or lather.
In the winter, it’s especially important to make sure your
horse’s coat is completely dry before blanketing him or putting him away. Use a
towel to rub down the sweaty areas, working in a circular motion to lift the
hair and encourage the drying process. A moisture-wicking cooler can help pull
the dampness from your horse’s coat while keeping him from becoming chilled.